Conflicted

A few quick updates: All of us have been extremely busy over the past month, and this cut into our free/sleeping/blogging time.  Also, Duncan and I stopped recording our sleep times for various reasons, so no complete dataset will be posted at the end of the semester (I know, disappointing, right?).

In the spirit of Tom’s introspective posts, this one is a little more serious than the fun bullshit that I usually write about.

At the beginning of the semester, my roommates and I made a resolution to work out at least once a week.  Quincy basement has a gym, so we really didn’t have an excuse not to go.  I’ve always loved weightlifting; there’s something special about the state of pleasure you get after working your body to exhaustion.  I also savor the soreness that follows for a few days after a good workout (I’m probably a bit masochistic).  Maybe it’s just the change of chemical balances in the brain, but my outlook on life is always better after weightlifting.  I feel optimistic.

On a Sunday night a few weeks ago, I experienced a rare feeling of satisfaction with my life.  I had spent the entire morning and afternoon learning.  I wasn’t simply studying like I sometimes do by flipping through the pages just enough to complete an assignment; I was actually trying to engage myself with the  acquisition of new knowledge.  I do not attempt the latter nearly as often as I should.  After a productive day of absorbing new ideas, my roommates and I went to the gym.  As I was walking back to my room afterwards, I discovered what makes me feel content: progress and improvement of myself, both physically and mentally.

You’re probably wondering what that horrendously broad description means.  Doesn’t everyone feel good after they get better at things?  Well, yes, but not exactly in the same way.  I am more focused on the process of improvement than on the end results.  For me, an ideal life might be one where I could pursue an intellectual activity as a career, such as playing chess professionally, and also have time for sports as a serious hobby (or combine the two for chess boxing).

I wouldn’t have to be the best at anything; I would be happy as long as I could constantly strive to improve my abilities and achieve the maximum amount that my potential allows.  Of course, this particular lifestyle is off-limits to me, but my general point is that I like the idea of making myself better at a skill that I enjoy.  I don’t think I would mind going to college for a little while longer if it meant I could learn more things and also make myself more physically fit.  I find it so strange that I only have two more years of structured classes left.

I’ve been wondering how to reconcile the differences between my ideal life and the potential paths that I will take in the future.  If I enjoy making myself smarter and stronger, then why not just become a professor who lifts weights?  Alas, academia is definitely not the right choice for me.  I’m not going to lie; my materialism alters my career incentives.  I want to be wealthy, but not excessively.  I want to live in a big house and drive a nice car.  I want to be worry-free when it comes to expenses.  I want to be able to take a break and travel the world at any time.   I want to be my own boss and not report to a superior from 9 to 5.  I want the freedom that is associated with being out of the rat race.  None of these are guaranteed if I choose a finance job, but the probability of achieving them is much lower if I choose an career in academia over one in finance.

If I desire both money and knowledge, how do I balance the two?

My hope is that a career in finance will open enough doors for me that I can eventually leave it to pursue a more satisfying goal, e.g. starting my own company.  A friend of mine once joked, “you know it’s bad when you’re already planning an exit strategy.”

He’s probably right, but I hope it’ll be worth it.

Note: I added the chess boxing video because I was afraid of people being turned away by too much text.